I don’t think that it will be news to many that ‘a little and often …‘ is seriously good practice when it comes to practice! However, a colleague of mine recently used that phrase followed with ‘… not a lot in one slot.’ I love this; it’s not only catchy and memorable, but it also happens to be spot on.
This was demonstrated to me perfectly by one of my piano pupils returning from half term this week. During term time it can be more difficult to be disciplined about practice (especially in a busy boarding school environment like Monkton) but whilst at home he had made it a habit to sit down at the piano at regular intervals and practise for a few minutes at a time. In this way he had done maybe twenty minutes each day for a whole fortnight. The significant thing is, it really showed, and he knew it too. I’m hoping that he might be inspired to keep this up now – I’ll keep you posted!
Believe me, when a pupil has practised – and equally when they haven’t – it is so obvious to the teacher (as long as the teacher is engaged of course.) I remember a time not so long ago when this same pupil would open the piece of music and spend the best part of a minute working out what the notes of the first chord were! And this was a piece which he was supposed to have been practising over the previous week or two. His note reading wasn’t great, admittedly, but if he had spent time with it every day I suspect that he would have at least known where to start.
In recent weeks I have been asking my pupils to point to the box which most accurately describes their practice for the previous week. Aside from no practice at all, ‘a little in one slot’ is the worst case scenario. Once they hit the bottom part of the red line, however, I am beginning to see clear evidence that they are familiar with the music which they are working on – and that familiarity comes from regular contact with the music.
Personally I wouldn’t object to my pupils practising ‘a lot and often’ from time to time (which has certainly been my practice regime this half term!) but in the meantime I try to encourage my pupils to appreciate that ‘a little and often’ is the best way forward. I have talked before about modelling good practice technique in each lesson; even better than this is when the pupil practises well on their own and realises how effective their practice has been. That is empowerment.